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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Mad Men – “Mystery Date”

“I don’t want you to get rickets in that haunted mansion.”

Dawn and Peggy have a late-night talk.

"Do you think I act more like a man when I have a well-placed beer bottle?"

Mad Men will let things play out, no matter what the cost to the character, partially because they can incorporate it into a later storyline but usually because they can smooth it over by the next episode like it never happened. Think Joan’s in-office rape and Don’s entire existence.

With that in mind, we can be conditioned to believe almost anything can occur. Almost anything. They can resolve Don having his personal files reviewed by a security agency without much trouble outside of a couple panic attacks but this isn’t Being Human or Buffy or even House. There’s a limit to what can be done by a single character where the repercussions are scuttle-able.

So when a character does something beyond the realm of fixing, it throws you out of the episode. At least it threw me out so I have to decide whether the show thinks I’m an idiot or if this is supposed to mean something because they assume I’m smart enough to know what’s going on.

With that premise in mind, let’s talk about what Don didn’t do.

Don choking out a girl and hiding her under the bed is outside of the realm of possibility. So many things about his life can be erased, shifted, and forgotten but killing a girl and poorly hiding the body can’t be one of them. So, while watching him choke out a rather persistent former flame, you have to assume that this show understands its audience is aware of a fever dream episode setup and that the rapid passage of time into night doesn’t correlate with Megan’s imminent return (two hours) defuses any ticking time bomb.

So, instead of this being about Don’s literal actions, this is the metaphor that wouldn’t die. Megan’s intimation of her matrimonial qualms of being tied to a city-wide renowned cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater sets up Don’s own fears of not being able to resist the temptation of flesh he can have at the snap of his fingers. Is he a serial life ruiner? Yes, but I guess he doesn’t want to believe that.

So this woman I hardly remember represents the burning in his loins for new strange, a yearning he strangles and kills. Because Don wants to make this marriage work. But then hides the corpse and the show makes sure we see how he hides it. So that regret may fester and rot in his brain? Maybe. But we know from all our context clues that Megan is only a tell-tale phantom in this fever dream, that she’ll never actually arrive but just haunt his universe until it’s over. So it’s really more about how he hid the body.

The “Dirty Nurse” case is important throughout the episode and, clearly, this is Don’s way of calling himself a predator. Though, in that case, the only surviving member of those that were kidnapped was under the bed. So what does that say about this recurring desire Don just slayed? Either this is a really complicated (and sometimes contradictory) symbol tied into some possible foreshadowing — or this is a really ham-handed way of fitting Don’s storyline into the others. I’m hoping for the former.

While Sally Draper gains a new bogeyman by reading the newspaper story about the “Dirty Nurse” case, her hiding under the furniture to me says more about the last shot of Joan than it does about Sally. Though she’s great in the episode, her sassmouth developing pleasantly and her personality dominating, Sally’s story is surprisingly small compared to its portrayal. She’s uppity about not being treated like a grown-up enough, she dips into grown-upness by reading the story in the paper that she shouldn’t, and then hides under the couch when she’s too scared to go to bed by herself. Shipka kills it, though, and that’s why they can trade out Bobbies and Sally stays the same. Also, I imagine boys grow up pretty fast when you don’t film anything for a year.

Anyway, the point is that you find Sally under the couch which is her bed surrogate (further hit home by her awful grandmother-in-law sleeping on it). Joan, on the other hand, in the last shot, is on top of the bed, with her child, and staring at the ceiling.

Well, even if they wanted to put Joan under the bed, I’m pretty sure that rack wouldn’t fit. But her fearlessness is important. Joan’s life this past two seasons have been dominated by what Greg wants. Joan puts her life on hold in order to housewife while her husband fails all over the city and bears him a son (well, maybe not his son) while he’s away at the only place that’ll have him: war. His return, to Joan, marks a time when they can finally start being one big happy except that he chooses to go back to the front lines without saying anything to her. It may be surprising to some with the way she reacts to this, particularly since she’s been so forgiving and accepting of everything else he’s put her through, but this last act puts everything into focus for her.

He’s an aggressor. He’s aggressively changed her life, aggressively forced her into doing things she doesn’t want to suffer. He’s to return to a war of attrition with no end in sight, leaving her to pick up the pieces. Standing up to him and throwing him out is her not only standing up to the man poisoning her life but also her attacker. This is the man that raped her on the floor of Don Draper’s office and her life has been in decline ever since. His exit from her life is what Joan needs to return to herself, to regain that confidence she had before the marriage and the swagger that left her when she froze on the floor of that office. That she sleeps on the top of the bed is her metaphorically announcing the conquest of her attacker. Her life is there for the taking back.

Finally, we can talk about Peggy Olson, who is finding new frontiers in being awesome. Peggy counting money is one of the best things we’ve seen her do since peeking through the window in “The Rejected” and her time with Dawn is the best commentary on race this show may have done so far. Her is Peggy, a progressive girl, fighting against a machine run by penises to maintain her job and position, sacrificing everything so that her lack of weiner never casts doubt into the minds of those who feel women are inferior in business. And, yet, race is still a factor for her.

She brings Dawn home after catching her late at the office so she has someplace to stay while it’s too dangerous for her to travel alone back home. She and Peggy have a heart-to-heart while Peggy’s a little drunk (and I like Drunk Peggy almost as much as I like Drunk Nick from New Girl) but, when it’s time to turn in, Peggy eyes her purse before going to bed. It’s just a look, a glance between Dawn and the purse, but it’s enough to say everything that’s happening.

Does she take it in with her? If she does take it in with her, is it because Dawn is a veritable stranger or because she’s black? Did I just say black? I mean, African-American. Does she know this thought process is going on? That look on her face looks like she does.

She leaves it there and finds it’s only changed by the note left on it, Dawn’s subtle hint that she knows what Peggy as thinking and a way for her to make sure Peggy feels like a jackass by reminding her. Hey, Peggy! You pulled kind of a jackass move! You’re definitely one of the boys now! Just stand in the break room and talk about putting Megan’s ankles on your shoulders. Actually, do that. Real slow.

The episode overall was pretty good, but better on reflection than it was while watching it. Maybe next week, Don can have another fever dream where he actually does something we can believe could actually happen! Like wrestling Snagglepuss!

Other things:

  • Must be cold today, eh, Andrea?
  • I’m glad they insert a French word for Megan every once in a while or else I’d forget she was Canadien.
  • “Sticking his elbow through” is not where I expected that conversation to go.
  • “I’m on vacation.” Don and Sally’s relationship is one of my favorites this season.
  • “You could have TB.” I like Michael. I like that there’s someone in the office that is ambitious and self-important enough to catapult himself in league with Peggy and aspires to be Don. They’re probably going to get married. Peggy and Michael. None of the other combinations. Also: it opens up a new arena of mistakes to happen that Don hates (i.e., speaking out of turn in front of the client).
  • How is that water acceptable?
  • Does Megan do any work?
  • I like that Joan’s mother is so willing to give these kids space so they can bone.
  • “Maybe get a French girl.” Maybe Megan will get something to do an follow in Betty’s footsteps and I WILL BE RIGHT FOREVER.
  • Roger is great this season but there aren’t enough scenes with Peggy and Roger in them. Every line in that scene is pure gold. There needs to be way more. Way more. I’m thinking spin-off. It could air on the same night as the Tyrion-Arya spin-off from Game of Thrones.
  • Okay, just a few lines from that scene:
    PEGGY: “I don’t know. What’d you have in mind?”

    ROGER: “Because all the other mechanics are on strike, boo hoo, they need more wrenches or something –“

    ROGER: “Hey, Trotsky. You’re in advertising.”

    PEGGY: “You don’t know, huh? That’s helpful.”

    PEGGY: “Dazzle me.”

    ROGER: “It better be good.”
    PEGGY: “Do you want me to take your watch?”
  • Pete’s even a jackass when he’s not trying to be.
  • Is this thing with Andrea simultaneously a metaphor and a way for Don to work out how he’d actually get a woman to escape without Megan noticing?
  • “Do you think I act like a man?” Replace “a man” with “Don” and that sequence gets a lot more poignant.
  • Bugles were never that popular.
  • Even in death, Andrea is nipping.
  • “Here, Sally. Have some Seconal. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz uses it all the time!”
  • “He Hit Me” — well played, Mad Men.

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